Waukesha, Wisc. - A visibly emotional Paul Ryan took the stage in his home state Sunday, his first trip back since Mitt Romney announced his pick for the presidential running mate. His first words: "Hi Mom!"
"Thank you everybody, thank you Wisconsin, It's good to be here," the congressman said, pausing with tears in his eyes to take in the moment and the size of the crowd, which numbered in the thousands. Ryan had arrived at the fairgrounds by way of roads he has long been familiar with, but this time in a motorcade escorted by Secret Service protection, his name soon to be punched on the Republican presidential ticket.
"I love Wisconsin," he repeated. "I see my family over there, that's this half of the stadium," he joked. "I'm fifth generation from this state. My families came here in the 1800s, made a go of it, it's where we've all raised our families ever since."
Just two days before, in a concerted effort to keep a tight lid on the impending announcement, Ryan had quietly sneaked out the back door of his house, evaded the prying eyes of the press, and trekked 300 yards through the woods to rendezvous with a car that would whisk him away to a new reality.
Now, secret unveiled, Ryan was eager to pay tribute to his Wisconsin roots.
"My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, and a little Spotted Cow, Leiney's, and some Miller," he said. "I was raised on the Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Brewers. I like to hunt here. I like to fish here. I like to snowmobile here. I even think ice fishing is interesting. I'm a Wisconsinite through and through, and I just got to tell you how much this means to be home. "
The celebration featured speeches from a cast of rising stars in the Republican Party who also call Wisconsin home: Senator Ron Johnson, the Tea Party darling who defeated incumbent Russ Feingold in 2010; Reince Priebus, the former state party leader turned Republican National Committee chairman who has restored order to the organization after Michael Steele's tumultuous reign; and finally, Governor Scott Walker, who in June successfully beat back a recall effort after engaging in a protracted battle with the state's public sector unions.
"On June the fifth, courage on the ballot in Wisconsin and courage won!" Ryan said, referring to Walker's recall vote and what he recounted as a tradition of fiscal conservatism. "We Wisconsinites, we saved Wisconsin that day and on November the sixth, we Wisconsinites will help save America!"
Business man turned radio personality and former presidential candidate Herman Cain also stopped by for the event but did not give official remarks on stage.
Ryan's nomination could give Romney the boost he needs in this purple state. Polling conducted before the Ryan announcement showed President Obama enjoying a five-point lead over Romney, a solid margin but also an indicator of eroding support for the president. In 2008 Obama beat McCain by 13.9 points in the state.
"We've seen a few elections in Wisconsin lately," Ryan said as an understatement. "We're ready, we're tested. We put these ideas out there, we implemented it, our leaders fixed the problems in Madison and we as voters said, 'Keep doing it.'"